06/22/2006 12:00AM

Flower Alley begins comeback


The vacation is over for Flower Alley, who headlines the field Saturday for the Grade 3, $150,000 Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park.

A 4-year-old trained by Todd Pletcher, makes his first start since finishing second to Horse of the Year Saint Liam in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Flower Alley came into his own last summer at Saratoga, with victories in the Grade 1 Travers and the Grade 2 Jim Dandy.

Pletcher said he hopes to use the Salvator as a prep for the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga on Aug. 5.

"The main thing is to get a good race into him before the Whitney, and, timing-wise, this comes up pretty good," he said.

Pletcher said the extended vacation was part of a long-range plan to have Flower Alley fresh for the second half of the season.

"There was no setback," he said. "It was by design that he got a vacation and he came back to us the beginning of April. It took a little time to get him ready."

Flower Alley returns at a propitious time in the handicap ranks. There is room at the top of the division, especially after Seek Gold's upset last weekend in the Stephen Foster Handicap.

Flower Alley will be ridden by John Velazquez and figures to be a short price in the Salvator, the first graded stakes of the meet, and his presence was not a welcome development for his four rivals: Cherokee's Boy, who was last year's Salvator winner, Park Avenue Ball, Network, and Gold and Roses.

"Obviously we're running against one of big older horses in the country," said Tom Bush, who trains Gold and Roses. "We have our work cut out for us."

Gold and Roses has earned over $500,000, primarily in New York-bred stakes. This will be his first start at Monmouth.

, the two locally based horses in the race, meet again after competing in the Frisk Me Now Stakes on May 27, when Park Avenue Ball set the pace and held off Network to win by a half-length.

Park Avenue Ball, the champion New Jersey-bred 3-year-old of 2005, had a very productive season here last summer, winning the Grade 3 Long Branch Stakes and finishing third in the Grade 1 Haskell.